The Original “Draft and Stash” Player

May 16, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird speaks to the press during a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
May 16, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird speaks to the press during a press conference at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s NBA Draft season, so terms like international buyout, draft workouts, combines and draft and stash are spewed from the mouths of bloggers — like this one — almost daily. The latter phrase becoming part of the norm occurred over time, but even now the idea and concept of a draft and stash player is fluid.

In the 90s, NBA teams started utilizing the second round of the draft to acquire future assets by selecting top international talent, leaving them to develop overseas and eventually swaying them to join their franchise at such a time as to be advantageous for all parties. The Portland Trail Blazers took the plunge in 1986, drafting Arvydas Sabonis 24th overall and Drazen Petrovic 60th overall. While Petrovic debuted in 1989, Sabonis took a whopping nine years until he jumped ship and played for Portland in the 1995-96 season.

This trend ramped up in the early 2000s and continues to this day. It’s not a trend so much as a draft strategy now within each franchise, with some being more adept than their peers.

This strategy has morphed in recent years to include domestic players. Any way NBA teams can acquire future assets is being explored and finding ways to retain those assets is paramount. In the past, if an NBA team selected someone in the second round of the draft, brought them to camp and subsequently waived them, they then relinquished all future rights to said player. With this strategy the player agrees to sign overseas, thus skipping training camp and allowing the NBA club to retain their player rights for future use.

Teams are now taking that even further by using a “domestic draft and stash” option via the NBA D-League. This scenario is much like the aforementioned one, however, players stay in the U.S. and play for the team’s NBADL franchise to become engrained in the lingo, schemes and development plans of their suitor.

While there are truly innovative components to this draft strategy, it’s not a novel idea.

In 1978, the Boston Celtics and general manager Red Auerbach took what was perceived as a wild gamble at the time, by selecting NCAA junior Larry Bird with the 6th selection in the NBA Draft. It was risky because Bird could — and did — return to college, meaning he wouldn’t even be available until the 1979-80 season. Many executives around the league questioned the pick but Red had his eyes set on a more long-term hero and Bird was his guy from day one.

Bird did return to Indiana State, leading to a 33-0 record before falling to Michigan State and Magic Johnson in a prelude to numerous battles in the professional ranks. Bird earned every individual award imaginable that season including AP Player of the Year, John Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award. He finished his three years as a Sycamore with absurd averages of 30.3 points, 13.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.

After a contentious round of negotiations, the Celtics signed the charismatic rookie to a 5-year $3.25M deal prior to the 1979 season, which was the largest deal for a rookie in any sport at the time. Later in life Auerbach was asked about the difficult decision to draft Bird knowing he would likely not be available for an entire season. He replied with, “I knew he was a great shooter, but I didn’t know how great. I knew he was a great passer and rebounder, but I didn’t know how great. And I did not know he would play with injuries; Larry was the most self-motivated player I have ever seen.”

How much faith did the legendary coach, turned general manager have in Bird? At the press conference announcing his signing he stated confidently, “Now we have Larry, and with one or two other small moves we are ready to contend.” The Celtics had just come off back to back seasons with 32 wins and 29 wins and now this rookie from little ole Indiana State was brought in to save one of the storied franchises in league history.

Bird went on to earn Rookie of the Year honors — and an All-Star berth — after posting 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists as a 23-year-old. The only other players do hit those numbers at age 23 or younger are Oscar Robertson (twice), Sidney Wicks, Charles Barkley and Kevin Garnett.

In 1980, the NBA enacted the Bird Collegiate Rule which stated players had to renounce their college eligibility to be selected in the NBA Draft. Only one other notable player used this exception as the Phoenix Suns selected Kyle Macy with the 22nd pick in the 1979 draft, however, he did not debut until the 1980-81 season.

Larry Legend went on to win three league MVPs (1983-1986), three NBA championships and is widely considered to be one of the top-10 players to ever suit up in the NBA. Bird’s body failed him earlier than he would have liked, but his basketball savvy can still be seen on display as the president of basketball operations for the Indiana Pacers.

You wanna know who the best draft and stash player of all-time is? Look no further than The Hick from French Lick.